An interview with
Peggy Lee (2005)
By Beppe Colli
Feb. 13, 2005
Listening during the same week to two CDs that see her performing
both as an "instant composer" (the CD Intersection Poems, by Horvitz/Samworth/Lee/Clark/van
der Schyff) and as a composer tout court (Worlds Apart, the third album by the Peggy Lee Band) convinced
me that it was time to have a chat with Peggy Lee.
Peggy Lee is a cello player that I first met on an album by Canadian
Lussier that saw the participation of the NOW Orchestra (Le Tour Du
Bloc, 1995); then I noticed her presence on two albums by George Lewis
that saw the NOW Orchestra appearing: Endless Shout (2000) and The Shadowgraph
Series (2001). While the improvised trio with drummer Dylan van der
Schyff and saxophone and clarinet player Michael Moore appearing on
the live Floating 1...2...3 CD (2002) showed Lee to be perfectly at
ease, the albums released under the name Peggy Lee Band that I listened
to - Sounds From The Big House (2002) and Worlds Apart - showed a clean
follows is the result of a conversation that took place last week, via
like to know about the way you started developing an interest in music
- what kind of music you found stimulating, the reason why you chose
the cello as your instrument and so on.
Well I started the cello at the age of 13 because the school I was
moving to was known for it's orchestral program. I already had had lessons
in piano and guitar but the cello quickly became my instrument. I listened
to a lot of classical music of course as well as plenty of Beatles,
Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan... Improvised music and jazz came much later
for me after I realized that I wasn't cut out to play in orchestras
and wanted to have some kind of say in my musical journey.
first record I bought on which you appeared was Le Tour Du Bloc by René
Lussier. Would you mind talking about that particular experience - the
way it came into being, your perspective on it, etc.?
Le Tour du Bloc was a really fun project. I was really taken by Rene's
writing and the way he incorporated the improvisations into it. I also
thought he found just the right place for each of the individual personalities
to shine (quite a feat given that he doesn't reside in Vancouver and
we were all new to him).
NOW Orchestra has collaborated with great musicians such as Barry Guy,
George Lewis (on Endless Shout and The Shadowgraph Series), Vinny Golia...
I'm sure there are others I don't know about. Would you mind talking
a bit about these collaborations?
Each NOW collaboration has brought out a different sound from the
band and we have learned from each of these artists. Barry has an incredible
energy that is impossible not to get swept up in. The performances are
always exciting. George put us through our paces with his compositions
in rehearsals but he also has a very dynamic performance energy as does
Vinny. I think that Wadada Leo Smith and Butch Morris both took a more
internal approach pushing towards the more subtle textures. They have
all been good experiences.
appear on quite a few CDs alongside Dylan van der Schyff - I know there's
also a duo CD (that I've never listened to). And I really liked your
trio CD Floating 1...2...3 with Michael Moore. Would you tell me more
about your musical partnership with his drums?
Well I have been working with Dylan since I have been improvising
so his influence on my development as a creative musician is immeasurable.
I owe a lot to him but it has always been so easy. I remember when he
suggested that we record a duo of improvisations and I wasn't really
sure but as soon as we started to play the music just flowed effortlessly.
I always enjoy any chance to play together which unfortunately has been
less over the years because we have kids. (Which is not unfortunate!
They are incredible.)
never listened to the first CD by the Peggy Lee Band. Would you tell
me about the reasons why you decided to start a band?
I put together my band because I loved the players and at that time
they hadn't worked much together in other contexts. I wanted to start
writing music and I found it easier if I could hear in my head each
of their sounds. Their individual voices reflect the different influences
in my writing.
I liked the second Peggy Lee Band CD, Sounds From The Big House, I liked
the recent Worlds Apart more. Tell me about the way you see the sextet's
progression up to now.
I think that over the course of three albums the collective improvising
has reached a new place. Of course it would develop much more if we
toured but again the balancing of the family comes to play. When we
do play live I am leaning towards more open spaces so that the music
doesn't get too set.
seemed to detect the influence of Wayne Horvitz on the title-track of
the Sounds From The Big House CD. You played with him in a concert that's
been released on the recent Intersection Poems CD. Has he really been
an influence on your composing?
That's funny. I did think of Wayne when I was writing the counter-melody
to that tune but nobody has mentioned it before. I think that I had
just come back from playing an evening of his compositions in Seattle.
His music is definitely an influence as is that of his wife, Robin Holcomb.
the situation like in Vancouver when it comes to avant-garde, jazz and
experimental music in general?
Vancouver has the reputation of having a very open scene when it
comes to the relationship between the various musical communities and
I think that that is fair. The Jazz festival here always includes a
broad perspective on the music. And there is some support from the new
music scene for improvisation.
favourite cellist nowadays? And what about bass players?
I don't think that I can come up with a favorite anything right now...
has been declared dead quite a few times. In your opinion, what are
the elements that make a composition sound fresh?
For me if I am playing through composed music then to play it as
if I am improvising keeps it fresh. If the piece incorporates improvisation,
then to really and truly improvise with no preconceptions keeps it interesting.
in store for experimental music? More money, bigger audiences - or (yikes!)
a descent into obscurity?
I don't know that I even play experimental music. It's just music
that makes sense to me given who I am and where I come from. I will
continue with it regardless of the size of the audience or the money
involved. I would presume that that would apply to most of us outside
the mainstream. I don't think it's dying anyway!
way you see the Web (in its various guises) when it comes to the evolving
patterns of consumption on the part of the audience.
Well I'm not as hooked up as I could or probably should be but I
can see the potential for getting the music to those who are interested
much more efficiently than in the past.
© Beppe Colli 2005
CloudsandClocks.net | Feb. 13, 2005